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Gym Turns Away Teen With Down Syndrome


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Despite paying for a membership, a family claims they were barred from entering a local gym because their teen daughter has Down syndrome.

Kevin and Sherrie Cates said they joined the Family Fitness Center in Ripley, Tenn., but the first time they attempted to visit together with their two daughters, the family was stopped at the door. The reason: the couple’s daughter, Mollie, 13, has Down syndrome.

The Cates say they were told by staff at the city-owned gym who turned them away that no one at the facility was trained to work with individuals who have the chromosomal disorder.

Mollie Cates’ parents say she attends regular classes at school — including physical education — and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to go to the local gym like anyone else.

An attorney for the fitness center said that the facility had never had a customer with Down syndrome and is now working to accommodate the family, reports WMC, the Memphis, Tenn. NBC affiliate.

Action News 5 – Memphis, Tennessee

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Comments (26 Responses)

  1. Connie Popp says:

    Why would the gym have to have anything special to accomodate this family? It simply doesn’t make sense. Does this mean that restaurants, or beauty shops, or coffee shops, or any place at all, would have to have special training in order to serve someone with down syndrome? Incredible. Publishing stories like this will hopefully help some to overcome what I consider to be fear of the unknown.

  2. John Hargrave says:

    I am astounded by this story, what ever happened to equality? This young lady can compete the same as the others, she just has a disability. That isn’t her fault, and no doubt she has faced these barriers before, usually by people who just do not understand her condition. We live in an age where we have to pull down the barriers that we face in our daily lives, often it is people’s attitudes that bar inclusion, as in this case.
    I do hope the gym see sense, after all she will be with her parents who have an intimate knowledge of her condition. I believe in inclusion for all no matter what degree of disability it is. Good luck, young lady, I do hope you can get there in the end.

  3. Katherine M. Martin says:

    I am appalled that counsel would use this as an excuse. The federal law and I would presume state law does not permit a place of public accommodation to deny access based on ANY protected category. It is implausible that a person of color or ethnicity would be presumed to have needs that could not be met. Why would this facility PRESUME that a person with a disability needs special accommodation.

    The parents should file a complaint with the state anti discrimination agency and or the US Dept of Justice. Ideally, the state agency should initiate its own complaint. This is not about $$$ but ordering education of the public.

  4. Jane Smithy says:

    Also dealt with something similar—no trainer would work with my son with CP. I teach fitness, have worked with physical therapists for 20+ years, and know what is required for trainers to be certified — like me. Therefore, they should have the ability to “handle” my son but they were worried more about the gym’s liability. This, too, I understand. However, my son had simply outgrown the pediatric therapy centers and their equipment. He needed adult gym equipment but I needed an extra set of hands to help him through the motions. Sad, sad, sad….but if you look hard, there are facilities that cater to the “specially abled”. Unfortunately, they are way too far few and between. I hope Mollie’s family does pursue this so learning can be brought to the surface for the rest of the public.

  5. Lorre Mendelson says:

    Sounds like a DOJ complaint to me. Who has to be trained to treat people with disabilities any differently than anyone else? , Lorre

  6. kenton says:

    I am a member of the YMCA in Smyrna, TN. People with Down’s Syndrome come and work out with their families all the time. These people need some education. Glad to see that the attorney said they are working out an accommodation although that should be a no-brainer.

  7. Phillip says:

    Per their own website: “The City of Ripley will not exclude from participation in, deny anyone the benefits of or otherwise subject to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age or handicap. Any complaint alleging discrimination may be filed with the Mayor of Ripley.”

    An avoidable situation, that hopefully will create an education for this facility, the city government about participation for ALL, regardless.

  8. Mary says:

    People need to be more open minded about accepting that a gym may be a fine fit in the lives of people with disability.

  9. Sylvia Hebel says:

    This is just a matter of prejudice. A Down’s syndrome teen should know what exercises he/she is capable of doing, and if they went as a family.. unbelievable.

  10. Phillip says:

    Mayor – Jon Pavletic
    City Hall
    110 S. Washington St.

    I left a message. It was constructive.

  11. John Pask says:

    Very disturbing to hear this from Tennessee, from a city owned facility named Family Fitness but fourtnetly this is not not the case in Gurnee IL. The local Golds gym not only welcomes people with disabilities but serves as a training center Special Olympics acquatics.

  12. JoyO says:

    The city of Ripley, Tenn., is breaking the Federal Accessibility Disabilities Act, (ADA). Where have they been for the last 23 years. Do they realize many people have disabilities, that aren’t visible, but are more dangerous than a child with Downs. Just ask the families in Conn. or Colorado. The city should have anticipated they would have special needs patrons (members). Learn from people who work with people, with disabilities, and educate your staff. Read your own advertisement and written policies. SHAME ON THEM!

  13. John R says:

    If it is not already, this story will go viral very soon. City leaders have a choice to make: do they use this inexcusable incident as an opportunity for some much needed staff training, or do they try to hide behind lasyers and legal mumbo jumbo and hope it will go away.
    There is one right choice. There is one wrong choice.

  14. sandy says:

    That is the dumbest thing I have heard in a very long time! I hope the family sues the gym for discrimination and to send a message to others that treating people with Down Syndrome unfairly is not acceptable!
    It’s really disturbing how People are so ignorant

  15. Marilou says:

    My daughter has Ds, we added her to our gym membership when she was 16 (the minimum age required for membership). The staff and members welcomed her, she has made many new friends and has walked the mile track by herself. Because she is a high school senior, she is well acquainted with the machines, likes the bike and rowing machine, and knows some great stretches. I’m sure the staff down at the “Family” Fitness Center in Ripley, TN, will get the proper “training” and join the rest of society who value what an inclusive society has to offer. If not, “sue the b_ _ _ _ _ _ s.”

  16. Michael Hayes says:

    As I was reading the article I laughed aloud when it said it was a city-owned facility. Given that they receive federal funding and DS is a disability, they were violating her civil rights. I laughed again when the article mentioned the city’s attorney said they were accommodating the family. The city learned quickly they had committed an egregious act and quickly moved to resolve it. Sad to see active discrimination occur but wonderful to see civil rights protections work.

  17. AlWBrown says:

    As long as they are currently in the process of getting somebody who is trained/learning to deal with somebody like that then I see no issue with the gym temporarily turning her away really. The parents can’t really use the “teachers at school deal with the daughter just fine” line cause an early childhood educator even I got some special education/special needs training back in the day. Most of the teachers will also have some form of training for that particular disorder.

    The article isn’t very specific either though..did the parents offer to stay with her? Did they offer to help teach? Did they give any advice or give specific instructions? Not a lot was really listed in the article.

  18. Wendy Rainford says:

    To AlWBrown;
    Watch the video for more information. According to the TV news report, the family was never given a chance to say that they would stay/workout with their daughter. They were turned away at the door with no ifs, ands, or buts. There is no excuse for the behavior of the facility employees.
    Also, please try to avoid referring to a person with a disability as “somebody like that”. It doesn’t sound inclusive to me.

  19. RB says:

    Read “they need time to train the ignorant/ predjudiced staff on how to treat a human being like a human being’

  20. Terry Cook says:

    I have a 34 year old son with Downs Syndrome who has been going to our local gym for many years. It is a fabulous experience for him. Exercise, socializing and even having a personal trainer. He goes two times per week, once on his own and once to have the owner personally train with him. Not all gyms are afraid to welcome a person with a disability. I hope more gyms will open their arms to those who are a little different. After all – what can be the definition of “Normal” in any of us.

  21. Michael K. De Rosa says:

    As a disability advocate, my knee jerk reaction to the title was ‘Oh, no not again. Why can’t people just accept people with a disability?” But, then I read the article and want to note this: the city is working on addressing this issue. It seems to me that the city might just be candidly admitting that they don’t know how to go about working with such individuals. In our too litigious society, I can appreciate them wanting to check things out. One thing that I have learned about disabilities, in general, is that we need to be willing to talk about the ‘elephant in the room’ so that we can learn how best to relate to that individual with disabilities. This is not treating them differently -as second class citizens, but treating them a unique individuals who have talents to share.

    My advocacy drove me to start a blog where I post articles to help others knock down the stigmas associated with disabilities, while helping people realize that those with a disability have so much to share with others

    Thank for your article!

  22. Sandy says:

    Hopefully they will work that out. What the gym doesn’t know is that there are people working out there who have disabilities that they can’t see. At the gym I go to there are young adults with Down Syndrome exercising and working there and everything is ok.

  23. Krystina says:

    I am BAFFLED by this excuse by the gym. Why does the gym need to make special accomodations for someone with an intellectual disability? To the gym and it’s attorneys: try reading up a little about Down syndrome before you concoct some ridiculous story about why you turned this family away in the first place.

  24. Cynthia Lawson Amaya says:

    That is awful what training are they talking about, the parents were present.

  25. Brenda Farley says:

    Shocking!!! Youth with disabilities can exercise and learn to use fitness equipment! Many fitness centers in the Memphis area even employe youth/young adults with disabilities. Our son who has DS has participated in commercial gyms for many years, and goes to fitness classes on his own, uses the weight room independently, and was even allowed to take the lifeguarding class at the area YMCA. He also volunteered as an assistant in one of their Sports Camps for younger children. I hope to hear a story of resolution and inclusion from this fitness center in Ripley

  26. Bill Dykstra says:

    I have a learning disability yet i am very concerned about all that have any kind or type of disability and thier family!

    Yes this is sad very very sad! But what are people doing to legally change this from happening again? This gym has a lawyer or hired a lawyer to help them deal with this issue!

    Do you have a lawyer?

    I had a professor at a local commuinity college who told me i could not record his lectures and how he did not care about the ADA!

    Because of a phone call from a lawyer the professor changed his mind and let me record his lectures!

    A family had two kids going to the same school one was in special education and took the special ed bus! The family sought out permission to have thier other child ride with his sibling to school in the special ed bus!
    The school said no way! A phone call from a lawyer changed this

    Parents were being strongly pressured by the school to put their child on Riddillin! A phone call from a lawyer changed this!

    Not everyone can afford to hire traditional lawyer or even to get counsel from lawyers!

    We can help each other! Particularly if we have the understanding of real struggles and so many doors being shut on us! Or time after time we are told no no no!

    I have been told no to many times in my life! Let us work together we can all learn and grow when we help each other!!!

    lets promote lets talk lets R.E.A.L.LY TALK!


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